Gale`s Westminster View – October 2021

GALE'S WESTMINSTER VIEW – October 2021October. A Tory Party conference in Manchester, The G20 meets in Rome, preparations for the COP 26 World Leaders Summit in Glasgow continue,  Her Majesty is ordered – well, advised – to take some rest, Chancellor Sunak delivers a Big State, High Tax  budget, the Entente becomes rather less than Cordiale as a `Fish War` breaks out with France.

The well-trailed shortage of HGV drivers leads to a lack of fuel deliveries to petrol stations and the inevitable panic buying at the pumps.  The supply chains are also breaking, shipping containers full of goods for Christmas are piling up at Felixstowe and other ports. A shortage of butchers is causing butchery of pigs on the farms as ibreeders run out of space to maintain their stock.  There is an escalation of the dispute between Government and the British Medical Association. The Health Department wants GPs to revert to face-t-to face consultations and the Doctors` Union does not.  Covid 19 infection rates are rising but the vaccination take-up rate between the teenage spreaders of the disease remains stalled.  The future of the HS2 and HS3 rail projects still hangs in the balance.  As wholesale gas prices rocket energy firms without pre-contracted supplies  go bust and a long, hard and chilly winter lies ahead. Following the killing, by a police officer, of Sarah Everard the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, finds herself to subjected to sustained harassment bordering on hate crime by the Bourgeoise Women`s Tabloid .James Brokenshire, the Member of Parliament for Beckenham and former Cabinet Minister finally loses the courageous battle with cancer that he has been fighting for several years. And our dear friend and colleague Sir David Amess is murdered while holding a constituency advice surgery in Leigh on Sea in his Essex constituency of Southend.

They say that everyone of a certain age remembers where they were when they heard that Jack Kennedy had been shot in Dallas in Texas.  I shall certainly always remember exactly where I was when I learned that David had died from the stab wounds received at the hands of a man who he believed had made an appointment to see him seeking help.  I was in a corner of the Club Lounge on a P&O ferry leaving Calais and just about to go live on air and in vision via Facetime on Talk Radio to discuss what, up to that point, was a terrible event but not a fatality.

Suzy and I had driven across France for eight hours at the end of was was supposed to have been a relaxing break but which turned into something of a nightmare for reasons that I will reveal at the end of this column.*  We made the port in good time only to find that there was just one “buses only”  French checkpoint open with a queue beginning to back up out of the port. The Gendarmes blamed the British for the fact that there was no point in opening any other booths because Border Force were taking so long to screen each vehicle. The British, when we finally reached them after Suzy had to walk through the `green line` to the UK checkpoint while I drove the car, blamed the French. There was, we were told, an awards ceremony taking place (The Most Recalcitrant Flic of the Year?) that they were all attending and there were no staff left to man the frontier!

So it was not until we were checked in and waiting to board that I got round to reviewing  my phone to learn that David has been stabbed and that an air  ambulance had been called.

David Amess and I entered the Chamber of the House of Commons on the same day after the election on June 9th 1983, he as the Member of Parliament for Basildon and I as the Member for North Thanet.  David took the oath of office before me and was in line to become the Father of the House when Sir Peter Bottomley ( Worthing) finally retires. Seniority depends upon length of continuous service and of some one hundred new members elected at the start of Margaret Thatcher`s second term of office only three of us, David, Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) and myself were left. Having taken the oath ahead of us David was in pole position to take over a job that he really wanted, that we had hoped and expected would be his and that we knew that he would have done with such popularity and flair.

It was because we were both `Class of`83` and were good friends that I was asked, initially to comment on events and the security issues facing Members in advice `surgeries` following the attack on David. That is how I came to be about to go live on Talk Radio when Suzy rushed across the passenger lounge to tell me that David had died. We all have bad moments in our lives but that, I think, is to date probably the worst in mine.

Sir David Amess, who switched to represent Southend when the constituency boundaries changed in 1997,  was a gentleman. He was funny, charming, a passionately dedicated back-bench constituency MP with time for anyone in need of a helping hand and a smile that could light up heaven. He was a fellow patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation who became the driving force behind many campaigns to improve the lot of the creatures with which we share the planet. The very last photograph taken of him in the House of Commons was on the final day before the conference recess when we gathered to launch a ten-minute rule bill to be introduced by Henry Smith (Crawley) to outlaw the use of cages for laying hens.

Mr Speaker (Lindsay) Hoyle, on whose Chairman`s panel we also both served, has said that David`s death has left a void in the House.  There is, terribly, also  a void in the house that David had lived in with his wife, Julia, and their five children.  To lose a husband and a father under such circumstances is beyond wicked. We miss him enormously and the tributes paid to him from all sides of the House speak volumes about the calibre of the man whose life we gathered, first in the Chamber and then  in the church of St. Margaret`s, Westminster, to celebrate.  It is fitting that Her Majesty immediately  granted to Southend  the cIty status for which David had worked so hard and tragic that he did not live to raise a glass to the City of Southend.

The Conservative Party Conference, which David attended this year in suoport of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and the Friends of Cyprus, is always the last in the series of party-political love-ins that start with the TUC gathering in September and end in early October with the Tories.  Time was when these jamborees ,   held out of season in Brighton. Bournemouth, Blackpool and in days gone by even Margate, attracted huge gatherings of the paid-up party faithful,  provided a useful shoulder-month boost to the seaside trade, allowed the converted to preach unto the converted, afforded opportunities for wining, dining and all manner of nocturnal mischief and were  on occasions a platform for powerful oratory and sometimes even dissent. It was an opportunity for the Big Beasts to strut their stuff and impress. Who present will forget Michael Heseltine`s socialist army on the march: “Left, Left, left left left”? Or Margaret Thatcher`s “U-turn if you want to. The Lady`s not for turning.!” We came and went as we pleased, supped with friends until dawn and rubbed shoulders with those who really were running the Country. It was fun and exhilerating and we went home fired up and ready to spread the gospel.

Then came the Brighton bomb and although “Mother” was back in harness and on stage only hours after losing some of her friends in the rubble things inevitably  did change. A ring of steel was thrown around the conference halls, we left the seaside for more secure venues in Manchester and Birmingham, the Concert venues turned into a marketing exercise and corporate exhibition centre designed to help fund the extravaganza and the fizz went out of the speeches.  Comparisons are odious but beside competent if pedestrian offerings from the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a minor supporting cast it was left to the Prime Minister to inject a little of the traditional Punch and Judy show knockabout` boosterism`  back into the proceedings.  He was at least occasionally amusing while playing, in Mayor Boris style, to the gallery.

We all need to remember that these thespian anachronisms are not really about serious politics. While reputations can still  be made or ruined on the platform – David Davis lost the chance to Lead the Conservative Party and David Cameron won it on the back of one lacklustre and one skillful conference  speech - this is not really about policy. It is about a sense of direction and enthusing the foot soldiers and sending them off into the shires and the cities and the streets and the marketplaces humming the battle tune of The Party.  With so relatively few grass-roots members now able to afford the exhorbitant costs of travel and accommodation the time has come, perhaps , for the traditional party conference to be consigned to the dustbin of democracy and for technology to take over. Except that there`s not much late-night revelry to be had on a lap-top.

The party conference was set against a backdrop of fuel shortages. Not at the depots. Our refineries and storage facilities have been brimming with carbon products waiting to be poured into vehicles and turned into CO2 emissions.  The problem, which as been trailed for months, is that there are no truck drivers to deliver the petrol and diesel to the garages that sell the stuff.  A couple of irresponsible newspaper headlines and Bingo! Before you can say “Fill her up” every garage forecourt in the land is crammed with cars trailing for miles back onto the highway burning more fuel than they will finally be allowed to buy when they arrive at the pumps.  There are now tens of thousands of cars will full tanks all going nowhere sitting parked in driveways unused but topped up `just in case`. And this at the expense of Doctors and Nurses and Policemen and Firemen and many other people that really do need to use their cars to do their jobs. Panic-buying is an extraordinary national disease (How many garages and garden sheds are still filled with rolls of lavatory paper  purchased at the start of the pandemic?) but by the time that the army had been mobilised and taught how to drive and unload fuel tankers the fuel shortage  problem was nine parts resolved.

There is, though, an underlying reality.  The Road Haulage Association  estimates that we are short of about a hundred thousand HGV drivers and that is why not only was there no fuel for a while but why the container shipping goods unloaded at Felixstowe and full of toys and electrical goods intended for the Christmas trade are standing piled high on the quayside at Felixstowe and other ports with nobody to deliver them to their destinations for onward sale.

I touched on the reasons for this shortage last month. Ageing truckers are retiring, European truckers have returned to the mainland where the pay and working conditions are better, there is a backlog of HGV drivers waiting to take their tests and many young men and women have looked at the prospects, realised that while the pay is improving the conditions and facilities provided for truckers in this country are third-world and have said “Thanks but no thanks” to the job. So these shortages – and a consequent damage to the supply-chain and lack of goods on the shelves are going to be with us from some time.

Similarly the `hostile environment` created by the Government for workers from mainland Europe is not conducive to attracting the drivers, the agricultural workers, the butchers, the poultry-pluckers and the care and ancillary staff that our businesses and our health services need immediately.  Belatedly offering, as the Home Secretary has done, a handful of short-term visas is not the answer and not surprisingly has been met with the continental equivalent of a raspberry.

There are those , and I think that I am one of them, who say that the Anglo-French “Scallop wars” owe rather more to the fact that there is a Presidential election in France next year, that M. Macron has variations of the hard right crawling all over him and that he therefore wishes to be seen to be walking rather taller than his natural stature, than it does to concern over the wellbeing and livelihoods  of a  handful of Breton fishermen . While it is certainly the case that “Lord” Frost appears to have all of the diplomatic skills of a knobkerry and seems to take a perverse delight in trampling all over anything with the word “Europe” in it it is also clear that the UK has delivered a very significant number of licences to permit French inshore fishing boats to harvest our waters – in reality probably rather more that anticipated by our own fishing fleet. That said there may be a few French boats whose record keeping has been less than adequate and who despite having fishes the waters around the Channel Islands for generations, have been denied what they regard as a birth right.

Sensible grown men and women would work this out amicably. Instead, on the eve of a Cop 26 summit that could well define the future of the human race as we know it we have a “Microbe Vs The Booster” spat that is escalating out of all reasonable proportion. The President of La Republique, in full `Marseillaise` mode, is busy forming his battaillons , threatening to blockade the Channel Ports (again!) and cut off power supplies to Jersey leaving that Island with a WW2 generator to keep the lights on and the hospital powered.  That is scarcely a proportionate or responsible response to the denial of access to a few bucketsful of seafood.   In the Jingo Johnson corner the mild-mannered and ever courteous George Eustace, Secretary of State for Fish, says that Britain will `retaliate` and the French Ambassadrix  at the Court of St James, Mme. Catherine Colonna, is summoned to see the Head Girl, Liz Truss, in the Foreign Secretary`s office.

Rather more seriously Prime Minister M. Jean Catex has written to the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, saying that `Britain must be shown that Brexit is damaging` and calling upon an EU hitherto reluctant to get involved with `stinking fish` to back the French in what is at best a spurious dispute. There is an additional aspect  to this, of course. Macron is still smarting over AUKAS and the loss of the sale of billions of pounds worth of submarines to the Australians. Additionally and dangerously – and this is a result of the UK`s folly in seeking to unilaterally re-write the Withdrawal Agreement  through the now defunct Internal Markets Bill – Macron is saying that agreements brokered by the Government of the United Kingdom cannot be relied upon. And that, as world leaders arrive in Glasgow for COP 26 could, if it strikes chord, have very serious consequences for mankind.

After months of planning and behind-the-scenes international diplomacy Cop 26 is upon us. The great, the good, the bad and the ugly of the Climate Change debate will bring the City of Glasgow to a standstill for a fortnight as the Leaders of the World will, with the notable exceptions of China`s President Xi and Vlad `The Poisoner` Putin seek to hammer out a response to Climate change that will save the planet for our grandchildren and future generations. While he has announced a raft of expensive zero-carbon measures designed to take the UK into an achievable but very rapid position Prime Minister Johnson, speaking at the G20 summit in Rome, as said that “The World is 5-1 down at the start of the second half”. He might have added “An hour to play and the last man in” . Whether delegates in Glasgow will understand either British sporting metaphor is a moot point but the message in any language and to any colour, class or creed ought to be clear.  

Lord Deben, the former Conservative Cabinet Minister John Selwyn Gummer  and now Chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Board, has condemned the UK`s much-vaunted trade deals with Australia and New Zealand as `unacceptable and offensive` because they do not reflect the reality of climate change.  Closer still  to home the consideration being given to further North Sea oil and gas exploration and to a possible new coal mine in Cumbria send out all of the wrong messages to those gathering in Scotland this week.

Anyone who can remember the film of Neville Shute`s novel “On the Beach” will recall the last shot, following the nuclear annihilation of the world, of the banner blowing above the deserted street proclaiming “There is still time, Brother”.  These is, at present, but precious little of it.

Rishi Sunak`s Autumn Budget was `green` but only in parts. The airline industry is on its knees, certainly, but there has been much criticism of the Chancellor`s decision to cut Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights when most domestic journeys (excepting the islands) can be made by rail.  All in all, though it was an up-beat and bravura performance. It will all have to be paid for, of course, when the chickens come home to roost and as with all budgets the devil will be in the details as they emerge from the fine print. Austerity this was not – but was it Conservative?  I lost track, very swiftly, of the amount of taxpayer`s cash that was being dished out North, South, East and West to a plethora of desirable causes but no sign of an increase in ex-pat`s frozen pensions.   Universal Credit? We will lower the taper to help those in work (but not the three million or so who are not).  Education and training, youth services, roads and railways, social services? £30 billion for investors in net-zero  green initiatives? World class education.. Offshore wind. A UK numeracy programme. The living wage up to  £9.50 per hour. Rates concessions for hospitality and entertainment businesses. Cancel the fuel duty rise. Take the brakes off public sector pay. Restore – eventually – the 0.7% GNP funding for overseas aid. A boost for the Red Ensign through changes to shipping tax. Beer and wine duty ? We`ll freeze the duty on ale sold in pubs and cut the duty on low-alcohol and sparkling wines.  The heavier wines will go up in price and cigarettes now require a second mortgage to buy a packet of 20. But hey, get yourself a vape machine. Mine`s another glass of Prosecco!

Ballswatch

Is it a Tall Story or is it true? It is said that the 5`8” Mayor Boris appoints lofty Ministers to the Treasury to intimidate the apparently height conscious 5`6” Chancellor Rishi Sunak. John Glen is over 6`   and the newly appointed Simon Clarke who has been transferred from MHCLG towers above even Glen at 6`5”!

It should surprise nobody that the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, believes that Daniel Craig`s successor as the next 007 should be played by a woman .Equally unsurprisingly Mr Johnson – “The name`s Boris Johnson` - does not subscribe to the Jemima Bond concept and wants another chap to step into the hallowed shoes. Michael `Jon Bon` Govey (as he has now been re-christened by the Prime Minister)  goes further and wants a` scouse ` bloke to  pump some more lead into the bad guys.

As a by-product of the fuel non-shortage precipitated by panic buying and a lack of drivers for delivery tankers my colleague Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and a Yorkshire farmer, has received his call-up papers. A begging letter from the Department for Shifting Things Around has asked him to step up to the plate and offer his services as a  trucker. As a mover of farm machinery Robert, you see, holds a valuable HGV license!

The issue of migration may be  a matter of `shared international challenge` but my friends in Albania tell me that overtures from  Her Majesty`s Government to discuss the possibility of flying `boat people` out to their country for processing will not find favour!

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab is said to be pondering the possibility of `Lags in high viz jackets-` to pull supermarket trolleys out of village ponds and streams. The idea would be to double the number of prisoners wearing tags up to twenty-six thousand convicted offenders. What goes around comes around. In thirty-eight years I have seen numerous attempts to `re-habilitate` offenders and to make them pay their way. The need to maintain security, safety and `Uman Rights  have all conspired to kill off the idea. I wish Dom luck but it will be an uphill struggle against the forces of darkness. We can`t even invite illegal migrants to meet part of the costs of their upkeep by helping to make up the shortage of farm labour.

“This is your Captain speaking” but not, please, to `Ladies and Gentlemen`. British Airways, the airline that we were once proud to call `our national carrier` when it `flew the flag` is heading wokewards again. BA wants to `celebrate diversity and inclusion` and to to embrace  `children and today`s social norms` whatever that is supposed to mean. I am not taking to the air these days but if and when I do fly again I shall be pleased to give BA a wide berth.

Swanage, the seaside town in my native Dorset, has succumbed to political correctness. Following a complaint from just one visitor the rural road known for decades as Darkie Lane because of its overhanging trees and high hedges is to be known, henceforth, as Dark Lane. The byway, which has no identifying nameplates, will be the subject of `local consultation` before a final decision is taken by Swanage Town Council.

President Joe Biden`s  criticism of  Christopher Columbus for his treatment of indigenous American people, levelled on Columbus Day (October 12th), has not gone down well in Spain. It is five centuries since the explorer discovered the New World in 1492 and understandably attitudes towards the colonisation that followed discovery have changed a little during that time.

The actor Eddie Redmayne, married to Hannah Bagshawe by whom he has two children, has faced criticism for taking on the role of Emcee in the musical “Cabaret”. The part has hitherto  been traditionally played by a homosexual or bisexual. You do not, surely, have to be a serial killer to play a serial killer? Gone, it seems, are the days when actors were expected to exercise the art of acting.

Mark Rutte, The Dutch Prime Minister, has determined that Crown Princess Catharina-Amalia, can marry a person of either sex and still become Queen. The seventeen year old Princess is not known to have expressed any view on the subject but it must be helpful to know that if the wants to, she can!

As part of his `diversity campaign` London`s Mayor Khan is funding £25,000 (each) grants to faciitate the changing of street names  and to pay for consultants` fees and compensation , presumably for the replacement of headed notepaper and the like. The Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will address issues relating to Empire and Slavery.

In the run up to Cop 26 it is revealed that the new Chairman of the Conservative Party, Oliver Dowden, has exchanged his predecessor`s electric Jaguar for a petrol-powered one in order to enable him to keep his driver. Until now I was blissfully unaware that petrol car drivers could not handle electric cars. I must have missed something.

Lord (David) Puttnam, the film-maker elevated to the peerage by `The Legacy` Blair, has resigned from the House of Lords because the United Kingdom, led by a populist Government, is `on a path to self-inflicted disaster`.

And to promote Chancellor Sunak`s budget he and the Prime Minister were happy to be photographed with Beer barrels to proclaim the reduction in the price of on-sale draught ale in pubs. Thepictured  barrels were under the 40-litre size that qualifies for the cut. Oops!

Valete

 

Mary Cookson (98) was the Ceylon-born Benedictine convent educated  artist and gardener who contrived to create an exotic landscape on a hilltop in Northumberland.. She published an illustrated biography ( Mary Cookson – a sketched life”)  in 2016 .

John Clunies-Ross ( 92) was the last `King` of the Cocos islands in the Indian Ocean before they were annexed by Australia in 1955. The tiny “kingdom” – a few square miles of coral island – was first discovered by Captain William Keeling of the East India Company in 1609. John Clunies-Ross`s Great- Great-Grandfather `re-discovered `the outpost in 1814 ad settled there with a team of artisan employees in 1825 to establish a coconut planation. The Cocos `estate`was granted to the Clunies – Ross family by Queen Victoria in perpetuity and the family commenced a benign dictatorship that had `no police, no crimes, no trades unions and no strikes`. John Clunies-Ross returned to the island, used as a transit post during the hostilities, after the Second World War  and resumed his role as `Tuan Besar` or King and in 1954 with his wife received the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh. Rule from Canberra, Australia, was effectively imposed by the UN in 1978 and after a protracted legal struggle Clunies-Ross was declared bankrupt in 1986.

The Rt. Hon James Brokenshire (53) was the sitting Member of Parliament for Old Bexley and Sidcup when he succumbed after a long and courageous fight against lung cancer.  He was first elected as the MP for Hornchurch (Essex) in  in 2005 with a majority of just 480 votes.  With the abolition of the Hornchurch seat in boundary changes James was selected to fight the Bexley (Kent) seat which he won with a majority of 15,857.During a Ministerial career interrupted by treatment for cancer he served as Home Office Minister of State , as Secretary of State for Local Government and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Described as `a safe pair of hands` James was one of the most decent, diligent and courteous of Members of Parliament and Ministers. The House is the poorer for his loss.

Mark Roper (86) grew up in, and was the driving force behind the conservation of, Forde Abbey, once a Cistercian Monastery in West Dorset. He is quoted as saying that “for the past three hundred years none of the abbey`s owners have been rich enough to mess it up” and by opening the house and grounds to the public he was able to commence the painstaking task of restoration to its former glory. In 1992 Forde was named the Historic Houses Association`s Garden of the Year. It boasts a world-famous herd of Devon Cattle and has been the location for a number of films – perhaps  most notably “Far From the Madding Crowd”. Mark Roper served as High Sheriff of Dorset, as Branch Chairman of the Historic Houses Association and as the Chairman of the Dorset branch of the CLA.

Johnny Gold (89) was the former Brighton bookmaker who founded Tramp, the London Jermyn Street nightclub that hosted celebrities and members of the Royal family for more than half a century. Formerly the Society Club, Tramp was opened as a members-only establishment in 1969 and on the opening night Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, Natalie Wood amd Richard Harris were present setting the benchmark for the `A` list clientele

Sir David Amess (69)  first entered parliament to represent Basildon in 1983. He moved, following boundary changes, to Southend West where he remained a highly respected and much loved Member of Parliament until his murder, during a constituency advice `surgery`, on 15th October. We worked together on many camoaigns and I am proud to be able to have called him not just a staunch colleague but a good friend.

Sir Patrick Walker (89) was the Director General of MI5 from 1987 to 1992 and the man who managed the transition from the Cold War  to the post iron curtain era. He was a counter-espionage and surveillance expert who had earlier focussed his attentions on Northern Ireland. Sir Patrick oversaw the move from clandestine premises in Soho to Thames House, the high-profile development on London`s Millbank. He was knighted in 1990 and was succeeded by Stella Rimington.

Leslie Bricusse (90) was the composer and lyricist who wrote songs for the Jamws Bond Films (Goldfinger and You only Live Twice) and created the musical version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The winner of two Oscars also assembled a clutch of Grammy awards. His performer credits included Anthony Newley, Sammy Davis, Matt Monro and Harry Secombe. In 1989.He was inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame and received the Kennedy Award for excellence in British song writing.

Viktor Bryukhanov  was the engineer who built and managed the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine which went into meltdown causing massive radiation contamination in 1986. Bryukhanov became the scapegoat for the disaster and was sentenced to ten years in a Soviet penal colony.

Mo Drake (93) was Young and Rubicam`s  creator of the 1967 “Beanz Meanz Heinz” advertising slogan that, in 1999 was voted the most popular slogan ever. In 2000 it reached the top slot in the newly created Advertising Hall of Fame. The full slogan, “A million housewives every day pick up a tin of beans and say “Beanz Meanz Heinz”, was used by the baked bean manufacturers for thirty years. In 2017 Heinz marked the 50th anniversary of the slogan with the sale of fifty limited-edition tins of beanz each signed personally by Mo Drake.

Mort Sahl (94) was the Canadian stand-up comic whose quick-fire gags inspired a host of comedians and included the script writers of the 60`s satirical TV programme “That was the week That Was”. Sahl hosted the Oscars in 1959  and in 1960 made the front cover of Time magazine.

Max Stahl (66), who as Christopher Wenner became  one of the three Blue Peter hosts in 1978 when he replaced John Noakes, made his real name as a war correspondent working in Lebanon, Chechnya, Serbia and East Timor. When I worked with him on the Children`s Television programme he never seemed at ease with his role: he left the programme in 1980 and headed for Hollywood but then found his real metier as a documentary TV journalist. He won the Amnesty International UK media award and the prestigious Rory Peck award for his work.

And finally…..

Arise, Sir Philip May. The husband of the former Prime Minister Theresa May has been knighted by Her Majesty at Windsor in recognition of his tireless support for his wife.

And Vivienne, David Amess`s beloved French bulldog and nominated before his master`s untimely  death has been awarded the prestigious Westminster Dog of the Year trophy.

*A cautionary footnote (France)

This may fall into the “teaching Granny to suck eggs” category but on what was supposed to have been the last day of our break in France Suzy and I  went out to lunch before loading the car for the long drive home the following morning

As we arrived at the restaurant I picked up a puncture. Another diner who had a compressor offered to re-inflate the tyre so that we could drive about five miles back to a garage. We then discovered that the inside of the tyre had shredded.

We called AA international and a truck arrived within the hour. A helpful driver then took us to four tyre centres, none of which could assist us.

I drive a 5-series BMW  which uses “run flat” tyres. Ordinarily these work well and the cars do not carry a spare.

You probably know, but we found out the hard way, that France does not stock run-flat tyres!

This was Monday, I was due back at work on Wednesday and the House was sitting the following Monday.  The garage ordered two (by French law) new tyres – from Germany. We `might` get them by Thursday, possibly by Friday, if not – the following Monday. The three days` extra `holiday` were spent unscrambling the diary and trying to work out ways to get (a) ourselves and (b) our car back to Britain in line with Covid requirements and to enable me to be back in the House on time.

We did get the car back on Thursday afternoon and found ourselves on the quayside listening to the news about David on the Friday.

You probably know all this but if you have visiting friends with run-flat tyres  (they are used on Mini Coopers as well) warn them that they are difficult if not impossible to replace in France!

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